EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS
Emotional Support Animals
An emotional support animal is an animal that offers comfort to its owner by providing companionship. These animals are primarily used for those looking to cope with a psychiatric disability, they are a great natural alternative for medication.
If you deal with emotional challenges like anxiety or depression every day, you may be considering an emotional support animal. An emotional support animal is basically a pet that you keep with you to help you deal with the daily pressures you encounter. They can be a calming and soothing presence in your life.
The most common emotional support animal is a dog, but any animal that provides a calming presence and isn’t a disturbance in public can be used as an emotional support animal. However, they do not receive any special training like service animals do.
They are not considered pets for the purpose of landlords and airlines, so if you can prove you need them around, the landlords and airlines have to permit them to stay with you. The best way to do this is by getting a letter from your mental health professional that says you need the emotional support animal with you.
If you suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, or depression, an emotional support animal may be what you need to help you live a better daily life. Talk to your mental health professional and they can decide if this is something they can prescribe for you. After that, they will give you a letter stating that the animal should be allowed in your apartment and on planes.
How should you go about getting and using a letter?
Talk to your mental health provider: Psychologists and other licensed mental therapists are the onlypeople who can legally determine if you would benefit from an emotional support animal.
Undergo Treatment: The therapist writing your letter has to verify that you have a valid medical condition and that you are under their care. This means you are “undergoing treatment” for one thing or another. If your therapist thinks you are not doing other things they think you need to do to maintain your mental health, they may not feel comfortable authorizing an emotional support animal.
Carry the Letter: While you will mostly only need the letter for your landlord or when you ride an airplane, it might be best to carry the letter around with you. Stores, taxis, and other common public spaces may prohibit you from bringing your emotional support animal unless you have your letter.
Renew Every Year: Your letter has to be renewed every 12 months in order to be valid, so make sure you’re visiting your therapist at least once a year. This ensures that you’re following up with your therapist with the help you need. It also allows your mental health professional to make sure you are still benefiting from your emotional support animal.
You may be worried that getting a letter for an emotional support letter may single you out or open you up to discrimination. You should be happy to know that the letter does not need to say any specifics about your condition. Also, no one who sees the letter can ask about the details. Those are private and protected, and they can’t affect whether or not you can be with your emotional support animal in public places.
One thing you may need to consider are people’s allergies, however. While you can take your animal in airplanes and most apartments, be aware that some people may need to switch seats or may have their own fears and anxieties about animals.
Having an emotional support animal can be a major blessing to people who suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, or depression. With a letter from your mental health professional, you don’t need to worry about bringing your animal anywhere--it is a common, well accepted practice. Your new animal friend and the letter you receive can be your ticket to a more relaxed way of life.
They can also be used in addition to medication and therapy as another tool to cope with psychological disorders. These animals do not have to have specialized training, but they do need to be well mannered and their handlers should have control of them at all times.
What are Emotional Support Animals used for?
Almost twenty percent of our population fights with some type of mental illness and emotional support animals are a way for you to cope with the symptoms of mental illness.
Production of Neurotransmitters:
Dogs have been proven to increase levels of dopamine and other neurochemicals that are associated with happiness and bonding. Studies show that dopamine production happens when you look into a dog’s eyes. This is great for people with anxiety, and it can also promote self-love.
Dogs are a great way to promote your social health by being a social companion. This can be helpful with anyone suffering from mental illness or agoraphobia. Having a companion like a dog helps your both physically and mentally. Dogs can help physically by helping improve your cardiovascular, immune, and endocrine function. The relationship between an emotional support animal and human is healing in itself.
Stabilizing Intense Emotions:
When times are difficult, we go through a variety of emotions. We may go through feelings of agitation, fear, anxiety, or sadness. Animals have a steady state and they are able to provide a neutral but supporting stance. They are able to give affection when called and this affection can often help divert one's focus from the situation to the animal.
Work with other Treatments:
Emotional Support Animals can be integrated with other treatment models that are aimed at providing support and relief to owners. The best way to use an ESA is to use them in conjunction with other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The mixture of therapies will help you control your symptoms and facilitate a healthier overall lifestyle.
Calm Anxiety while Traveling:
One of the most stressful acts for people is leaving the house and traveling. There has been a lot of nonsense with animals and planes, but a true ESA will make traveling quite a bit easier for you. Sometimes traveling is necessary and this does not have to be a traumatic experience, having an ESA can make leaving the house possible.
They give unconditional Love:
Having an ESA can bring feelings of love that you might not otherwise feel. Dealing with mental illness can be a struggle, and self-love can be very difficult to achieve. Researchers have found that a support animal can help bring feelings of connection that people may struggle with. It helps people with mental illness re-engage with the world while feeling supported by their ESA.
What Animals Qualify as Emotional Support Animals?
Any domesticated animal may qualify as an Emotional Support Animal. One of the most common ESA’s are dogs, but they can be ferrets, dogs, cats, birds, hedgehogs, miniature pigs, or mice. The only rule in place regarding ESA’s is that the animals remains manageable in public. This means that you need to have control of the animal in public and it should not create a nuisance.
Emotional Support Animals vs Service Animals
Emotional Support Animals are different then Service animals as they play very different roles in supporting their owner’s health. There are certain laws that protect owners and their Emotional Support Animals. If you are suffering from conditions such as panic attacks, anxiety, depression or other psychological conditions you have the right to have an ESA.
Emotional Support Animals do not need formal training because of their ability to provide support by being around you. Emotional Support Animals are able to join you on airplanes and live with you (even if there is a no pet policy). The Fair Housing Amendment Act and the Air Carrier Access Act allows you to have an ESA if they are trained with basic commands and are deemed necessary by a medical provider. Landlords are required to make accommodations for emotional support animals regardless of their pet and breed policies.
The only time a landlord can legally deny an ESA is if the building has four or less single dwellings and the landlord lives in one of these places. The ACAA allows you to have your ESA on a flight with you without extra fee's.
The only time an airline can deny your assistance from an ESA is if the ESA letter is not specific. It is important that you contact an airline before your flight because certain airlines request special wording or their own documentation. These acts protect you and your ESA from discrimination. If you feel that you have been wrongly discriminated against or denied access from your ESA you may take legal action.
Emotional Support Animals vs Psychiatric Service Animals
We are seeing an up-rise in animal support and there is some confusion relating to a support animal’s title. Psychiatric Service Animals are also called Therapy Dogs while Emotional support Animals are also called Assistance Animals.
A Psychiatric Service Animal is an animal that has been trained to perform a specialized task. This means that the animal has specialized training that exceeds basic obedience training. These animals aid people with taking medication, providing room checks for those suffering from PTSD, interrupt acts of self-mutilation, and removing individuals from dangerous or harmful situations.
These animals are trained to recognize signs that indicate an owner’s predicament before it happens. Emotional Support Animals are not trained in this manner and they are there to provide a safety net or a natural comfort to their owners.
How do you make your Animal an Emotional Support Animal?
In order to be protected under the ACAA and the FHAA, you must have proper documentation from a certified doctor. This means that is required by law that you have a letter to show your need for an ESA. A doctor may prescribe this letter when they have deemed that you have a verifiable disability, or you need the support animal.
Under the law, you must be considered emotionally disabled. Many therapists are prescribing these animals more and more because of how beneficial they are. Once you have been prescribed an ESA and have an official letter you can use this when you need documentation for air travel and housing. An ESA letter is just how it sounds, it is a prescription letter written by a mental health professional or primary doctor (therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist).
The letter must be written on professional letterhead and it should include the doctor's name, license number, date of issue, place of issue, and signature. It should state that you are under this doctor’s care for a mental disability (this disability is defined in the DSM IV or V). Your doctor should have knowledge of how to write the letter and exactly what wording is necessary. This letter needs to be renewed every 1-3 years depending on your location.
Call Clare Albright, Psy.D. Clinical Psychologist CA License PSY11660 at (949)454-0996 or go to